The results are in!


Before I get into the winners I’d like to introduce my SA for the month of May.  Ms. Natalie Fischer of the Sandra Dijkstra agency (ie my agent as I’m sure some of you have already guessed). She is truly an “awesome agent” as one of my agency sisters has dubbed her and I’m so glad that she helped make my first Secret Agent contest a success.  Thank you, Natalie!

NATALIE M. FISCHER is a Literary Agent and Assistant at the Dijkstra Agency. She is in charge of managing permission requests and foreign tax, among other things. An honors graduate of the University of San Diego, California, Natalie holds a BA in Literature/Writing. She started as an intern at the Agency in 2007, after which time she left to write author profiles and book reviews for the San Diego Union Tribune. Finding that journalism was not for her, she returned to work full-time at the Dijkstra Agency in April 2009.
Natalie is actively seeking new clients, and is especially interested in talented, hard-working new authors with a fresh, unique voice and hook. Her specialty is commercial fiction, with an emphasis in children’s literature (from picture book-YA/Teen), romance (contemporary and historical), historical fiction, multi-cultural fiction, paranormal, sci-fi/fantasy in YA or romance only, fairy-tale/legend spin-offs, and “beautiful dark” novels. She will also consider select memoir (has to be really unique) and that amazing project she never even knew she was looking for! She is always drawn to an open and positive attitude in an author, good grammar, and fantastical, engaging and sexy plots.
Natalie is not interested in thrillers, “boy” books, ABC books, bug books, spiritual guides/novels, and books geared toward the Christian market.  (BIO and picture courtesy of her agency’s website.)

Before I announce the winners, I’d like to post the interview that she was so gracious to do with me, just so we can get a better feeling for this “awesome agent.” 

JS:  How did you become an agent?
NF:  By writing and interning. By writing, I learned what the heck an agent was, and by interning at the agency for two years and doing first reads and edits for romance agent Kevan Lyon (now of Marsal Lyon Literary), I learned exactly what an agent does. After starting a position here at the Dijkstra Agency in 2009 and getting the green light in September to start building my own list, I was an agent!
JS:  Tell us about a recent project you’ve sold.  (You can skip this one if you don’t feel comfortable talking about it.)
NF:  Most recent project was a lovely, lovely picture book, called RED IS A CHILI PEPPER (title pending). It’s quite an inspiring story, actually, how this one came about. The manuscript was sent in to the editor last SEPTEMBER, and, only last MARCH did she have time to really read and decide she loved it! It can take quite a while for things to happen in this business (especially in children’s literature), so don’t give up!
JS:  Are there any books coming out now that have you excited?
NF:  Oy, I just want to catch up with my already-purchased reading before I even think about this question. I have a two-foot pile next to my desk of MUST reads, and a bookshelf of unread books to read…eventually.
JS:  What are you looking for right now when tackling the slush pile?
NF:  RIGHT NOW at this moment, I’m looking for well-written, steamy romances (I’d love to find a time-travel romance, or a GOOD Regency or Victorian, or something like Jude Deveraux’s TEMPTATION) and REALLY unique fantasy/sci-fi YA. As in, not just a spin off, but in a whole class of its own. Also, well-written, well-plotted historical fiction.
JS:  What are you sick of seeing in queries that come across your desk?
NF:  Vampire novels, adult chick lit, “this is exclusive” even though we’re a no response if not interested agency, rhetorical questions, typos, a FANTASTIC premise that isn’t well-executed, pictures, abuse memoirs, and really, anything that makes me go “ick.”
JS:  Name three things that make you stop reading every time they crop up in a submission.
1.     Word count 100,000 or over
2.     Present tense (this is SO hard to do in my opinion)
3.     Whiney, bratty, snotty, or rude characters (snarky is ok)
JS:  How do you know when you’ve got “the one” sitting in front of you?
NF:  If I’ve read it and I want to write back to the author at one o’clock in the morning OMG but have to restrain myself to remain professional.
JS:  Will you be at any upcoming writers’ conferences where writers can meet and pitch you?
NF:  The next event I have scheduled is a panel at the Ventura Book Festival in July, and after that I’ll be at the Society of Southwestern Authors’ Conference in AZ. Staying pretty local for a while.
JS:  Do you have any advice on how writers can maximize their success in this changing industry?
NF:  Keep reading. The best way to soak in what you want to write is to read it, see what’s out there and what’s working. Stay tuned to discussions on Twitter, blogs, etc. And keep on persevering.
JS:  What is something about you writers would be surprised to hear?
NF:  I’m pretty “superstitious,” you might say. Any time I pass a patch of clovers I look for a four-leafed one (my five-leaf clover is taped to my computer). I believe in gut “feelings” and intuition, like to consult the online magic-eight ball on occasion (though, so far, it hasn’t really been all that reliable), and am a through-and-through Cancer. I also keep thinking of these fantastic ideas for novels that I’m never going to write. L
I’d also like to add that I’m pretty approachable. I know most agents and editors scare the bejeebes out of writers, but really, we’re just over-caffeinated book nerds like you. I hate getting calls about submissions, but emailed questions I’m always happy to answer. 
And I’m obsessed with SUPERNATURAL. And cats.
JS:  Best piece(s) of advice we haven’t talked about yet?
NF:  One of my favorite quotes comes from Lady Gaga, speaking to her younger self: “Don’t give up bitch; you’ve got a long way to go.”
JS:  How hands-on are you in terms of editing? How much input do you expect to have with your clients’ work?
NF:  I’m pretty well known as a hands-on agent. I expect any client I sign to be open to suggestion, and I always discuss this upfront. I don’t expect to re-write a book, and I also expect to have to back off if the writer absolutely feels that what I’m suggesting is not best for their work. I really enjoy a collaborative working relationship.
JS:  Best way for writers to submit to you?
NF:  Hard copy, unless requested, then by email. Submission guidelines are available at
Bonus Question: What is your favorite way to relax on a warm summer’s eve?
NF:  Drink wine and play Pictionary with a small group of good friends.

And now the news you’ve all been patiently waiting for:  the winners of  my first Secret Agent Contest.

Dear Secret Agent contestants,

Thank you for entering! I had such a hard time judging; there were SO many
close calls on this one. I literally sat on my bed for hours with the
submissions spread before me, biting my nails to get it perfect!

Congratulations to the honorable mentions:

#10 – Perfection – what gave me pause on this was the word count, and that
Ellyssa is perfect.

#9 – The Other Life – This was great; I just wasn’t convinced there was much
of a hook past the post-apocalyptic setting

#8 – Everything That Matters – Although I really liked the premise, the
mistakes in the query and sample writing gave me pause. The author doesn’t
know if it’s romance or women’s fic, para two sent one needs a semi-colon,
and an extra “a” in the second para of writing.

#7 – Pretty Girls Make Graves – The author has a great voice, but the query
confused me a bit. Is she literally haunted? Is it a serial-killer mystery
or a paranormal? Both? It’s a little short as well.

#6 – Confessions of the World’s Oldest Shotgun Bride – This was, again,
great, but it’s very short, and relies very heavily on the cougar hook.

#5 – Secrets Revealed – What a wonderful, unique premise. I was incredibly
intrigued — and at the same time, incredibly confused. It was well-written,
but I just wasn’t sure what to make of it!

#4 – Preyers – This was ALMOST in my top 3, but the word count made me know
that it needed cutting without even reading more!

And…drum roll please!

#3 – Lure – winner of a 25 page critique!

#2 – Tempest – winner of a 50 page critique!

#1 – Fated Mishaps – winner of a full ms critique!

Jessica, thank you so much for having me guest judge; congratulations to all

Natalie Fischer
Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency

Congratulations to these three winners!  Please email me for instructions on how to get your manuscripts to Natalie! 


24 Responses to “The results are in!”

  1. Michelle says:

    >Congrats to the winners! And thank you, Ms. Fisher, for taking time to judge!

    And thank YOU, Jessica, for this great contest!

  2. salarsenッ says:

    >Congrats to everyone!!

  3. Jordan Deen says:

    >This is awesome! Thank you Jessica and Natalie for doing SA this month! Huge Congrats to all the winners-

  4. Jessie says:

    >Congrats to all the winners! It was so nice of Ms. Fisher to take the time to do the contest.

  5. Amalia T. says:

    >Congratulations to everyone!! and Thanks so much to Natalie for doing this 🙂

  6. Trish says:

    >Congratulations to the winners and thank you for a fun contest Jessica. I really enjoyed it.

    Thanks to Ms Fisher for taking the time to give us all a chance.

  7. Dorothy Dreyer says:

    >Congratulations to the winners! Thank you so much Jessica and Natalie for doing this. I got honorable mention – that's the second one in a week for me! It's like a sign that says, "Almost there!"

  8. Gail Hart says:

    >Many thanks to Jessica for organizing this contest, and to Natalie for giving her time. I'm thilled to have finished in the top 10 – in this business we need all the encouragement we can get!

    Congrats to the winners, and for that matter, to everyone who had the guts to enter.

  9. Deborah says:

    >Thank you Jess, and Natalie, for offering an excellent opportunity. I truly enjoyed the experience.


  10. Jenn says:

    >Just wanted to say congrats to everyone who entered this contest! I saw some really great entries on here!

    Especially a huge thanks to Ms Fischer for putting out time to judge this and an even bigger thanks to Jessica for putting this together!

  11. Rissa Watkins says:

    >Congratulations to the very worthy winners and honorable mentions!

    Thank you very much Jessica for hosting the contest, which I know was a lot of work.

    And thank you to Natalie for taking the time to read every entry and judging. I'm sure it was very time consuming. I hope you sign up a lot of really good new clients from this!

    Keep writing everyone!

  12. JayceeKaycee says:

    >Congratulations to the winners and honorable mentions! And thanks to Jess and Ms. Fischer for this contest. It was a great experience.

  13. Larissa says:

    >Yay! I'm a finalist! Thanks so much to Jessica and Ms. Fischer! And congrats to the other winners!

    Also, FANTASTIC interview, Jess! Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  14. Ebyss says:

    >Grats to all the winners!!! Bunch of great work there.

    And a special thank you to Jess and SA Natalie Fischer for the donating your time to host a great event like this.

  15. catehart says:

    >Congratulations to all the winners

  16. ThePreyers says:

    >Ack! Sooo, close! But I'm delighted to be in the top 10. Congratulations to the winners and thanks, again, to Jessica and Natalie. I know I have a tighter query thanks to all the fantastic feedback I received through this contest.

  17. Hhook says:

    >Thanks so much, Jessica and Ms. Fischer, for hosting this great contest and donating your time!

    Just one little question, though–I sent an email for the instructions on submitting my pages for critique last night and haven't got a response yet. I used the same address as the one for the contest. Is this the right one?

    Thanks again!

  18. jasouders says:

    >Hhook: I did receive it, but I'm having a problem with my outgoing mail server at the moment, due to being in the hosp. with my daughter. I should be able to email you by Monday.

  19. HHook says:

    >I hope your daughter's okay! I didn't mean to be a pest or anything. I just wasn't sure I sent it to the right address. But thanks a ton for responding.

    I hope your daughter feels better soon.

  20. jasouders says:

    >No problem. You weren't! I just have a very limited amount of time on the Internet so I apologize if I sounded short. Congrats again! I wish you the best of luck! 😀

  21. HHook says:


    Don't worry, you weren't sounding short or anything.

  22. Liz Czukas says:

    >Congrats everybody! I hope great things come out of this contest.

    – Liz

  23. EJ Fechenda says:

    >Congratulations to the top 10!!Thanks again, Jess for holding this contest and thanks to Natalie Fischer for being the SA. Not only was this contest fun, but I received great feedback.

  24. Libbie H. says:

    >Congrats, everybody! JA, this contest was an awesome idea, and THANKS to Natalie for judging it!

    Was I the one who called Natalie and "awesome agent"? Because she totally is. And every interview I've seen with her says she'll stop reading if she sees a wordcount over 100K…I queried her with a 110K book so she must have REALLY liked my writing to have given it a chance. She did have me cut 30K from the book, though, and SHE WAS SO, SO RIGHT.

    So you writers who won a critique from her, listen well! Natalie knows what's up.